NEW YORK (AFP) - The governors of two major American states, California and New York, signed laws on Monday increasing their hourly minimum wage levels to US$15 (S$20.30), saying they would lift earnings for millions of workers.
The rises - which will set the country's highest minimum wage rates - will take place gradually to give businesses time to adjust.
The minimum wage in New York, US$9, is already higher than the national requirement of US$7.25. California's current rate, US$10, is second only to Washington DC's at US$10.50.
The move will put levels in the two US states on a par with the highest minimum wages currently in place among some of the world's wealthiest countries.
New York's hike will increase to US$15 at different rates depending on the area of the state and type of business. In New York city, all minimum-wage earners will be paid US$15 by the end of 2019.
The rise will lift earnings for more than 2.3 million people, according to the office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has crusaded to raise his state's minimum wage for nearly a year.
The law includes a paid family leave policy that gives new parents and those needing to care for sick family members 12 weeks of partially paid time off.
When fully implemented by 2021, those eligible will receive 67 per cent of their average weekly wages, capped at 67 per cent of the statewide average weekly wage.
Federal law currently mandates 12 weeks of family leave, but without pay. New York is the fourth state to adopt paid family leave after New Jersey, Rhode Island and California.
In California, Governor Jerry Brown enacted a minimum wage measure similar to New York's.
The law will increase minimum hourly pay to US$15 by 2022, although businesses with 25 or fewer employees will be given additional time.
California has approximately seven million hourly workers, with around 2.2 million earning the minimum wage, the governor's office said.
"This is about economic justice, it's about people," Brown said. "This is an important day, it's not the end of the struggle, but it's a very important step forward."
US President Barack Obama welcomed New York's bill on Twitter, writing: "Nobody should have to choose between losing a paycheck & caring for their family. I applaud @NYGovCuomo for taking a big step on paid leave."
He added in a statement: "Now Congress needs to act to raise the federal minimum wage and expand access to paid leave for all Americans."
After signing the bill into law, Cuomo headed to a celebratory rally attended by Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
Her Democratic rival Bernie Sanders welcomed the two states' wage increases in a statement, saying he was "proud" of the hikes that would raise wages for millions.